Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi has been in office for eight months. She does not yet seem to understand what the city’s consent agenda that she votes on at every meeting is all about nor her role in developing the city’s budget. She has, however, been granted a new position for an executive assistant in her office without any explanation of what this person would do and a $10,000 addition to her budget to buy furniture for her office, which was just completely redone two years ago.
A Well Appointed Office
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi received unanimous approval from the City Council at the August 16 meeting to transfer $10,000.00 from the “Help Desk Technician Furniture/Equipment” line to her “Office Furniture/Equipment” budget line. This brings that budget line up to a total of $13,000 to replace the furniture that was just bought two years ago when City Hall was refurbished after the fire.
The item was on her August 16 agenda listed as “Discussion and Vote: Budget Transfers – Payroll.”
Commissioner Sanghvi was absent from the August 16 meeting (more on that later), and Mayor Kim assumed her responsibilities for presenting her agenda at the meeting.
The link to this agenda item takes you to this document:
Mayor Kim merely read the agenda item without explaining what it was about and moved the adoption of the budget transfer item that allows for the furniture purchase. There was no discussion before the unanimous vote to approve the transfer of funds.
The current Finance Office furniture was purchased roughly two years ago. It is basically brand new.
Sources tell me that the money is to redecorate Commissioner Sanghvi’s personal office. We really don’t have any details because no one on the Council saw the need to ask Commissioner Sanghvi exactly what she planned to buy with $13,000.00.
I emailed the Commissioner asking for clarification. I received the following email back from her:
Hello. I am out of the office from August 8th through August 30th and will not be checking my e-mail during this time. (my emphasis) Please contact the following for any matters during my absence:
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
I understand Commissioner Sanghvi is on a tour of India promoting a children’s book she has written.
I have been sending emails to City Council members for decades. Politicians sometimes prefer to ignore emails regarding unflattering issues and do not reply. I have never received an email, however, announcing that a commissioner will not respond to any email at all for weeks.
So, I emailed Sanghvi’s deputy, Heather Crocker, with the same question and received no response.
Doesn’t Everyone Deserve an Executive Assistant?
In addition to generously adding to the Commissioner’s furniture budget, this Council also voted unanimously at an earlier meeting this spring to add a new position to the Finance Office again without anyone asking the Commissioner to explain the need for this.
In her last budget, former Commissioner Michele Madigan added a “grants writer” position to her department. As she explained at the time, the position, similar to the information technology office (IT), would serve all the city departments. Commissioner Madigan noted that to effectively secure grants in a highly competitive environment for critical city needs, it is important to be nimble and skilled.
Interestingly, the city has just contracted with a consulting firm to write grant applications for the Mayor’s infrastructure committee chaired by Joanne Yepsen, with an initial payment of $25,000.00.
Commissioner Sanghvi has decided to jettison the grant writer position and instead create for herself an executive assistant without explaining exactly what this executive assistant will do and why she does not see the need for an employee dedicated to seeking grant money.
The annual salary of the position is $51,490.00. Including benefits, the position costs $72,000.00 annually.
I spoke to Michele Madigan, the previous Commissioner of Finance, about this change. She expressed disappointment. “The city really needs an additional grants writer. Increasingly, money from the state and federal governments is available competitively. A skilled grants writer can produce money for the city well in excess of what the position costs.”
I can tell you there are many grants we fail to compete for because of the lack of a grant writer – particularly for water related projects and public safety. Updating the city dam is going to cost millions. There is money out there for water projects. Tina Carton does a great job seeking funds for sidewalks, trails, etc. but she has only so much time.Michele Madigon
Madigan also expressed surprise at the idea of an executive assistant. “I was Commissioner for ten years. There is no doubt that the job requires many hours for what is supposed to be a part-time position, and it would have been nice to have another body, but we always managed successfully to run the department with the staff we had.”
Readers may recall that in addition to her regular duties overseeing the finances of the city, during her tenure, among other things, Commissioner Madigan was instrumental in creating the solar energy system at the city landfill and in facilitating the agreement that will create a city-wide fiber optic network, all done without an executive assistant in the office.
Similar to the approval of the furniture, none of Commissioner Sanghvi’s Democratic colleagues on the Council asked any questions about dropping the grant writer position and instead creating an executive assistant for her.
Budget Time: When the Rubber Hits the Road, but Where is the Commissioner of Finance?
This City Council is about to get a dose of reality when they attempt to do their first budget. The process is very demanding, and a continual source of potential conflict as the departments compete for money to run their operations for the next year.
The process is supposed to begin in August when the departments are required to submit their budgetary needs for the coming year. Former Commissioner Madigan describes the work to be done this time of year.
August is when requested budgets are due. I would spend a lot of time analyzing all department budgets including the recreation department and the IT department. I would begin meeting with commissioners, deputies, chiefs, rec commission, and various non-profits. It was also a time I would review the capital budget as that is due to the Commissioner of Finance by September 15 after a vote by the Council.Michele Madigan
This is not a great time for Finance Commissioner Sanghvi to be hard to reach on a book promotion tour in India.
To date, the Council has been cavalier about spending city money, as evidenced by Commissioner Sanghvi’s furniture and new assistant, Commissioner Montagnino’s extremely generous proposed deal with the police department in order to realize his myopic campaign over shift hours, and let’s not forget the legal bills Mayor Kim is racking up for the city in his frivolous lawsuits.
All this is as the city faces necessary costs to operate the new fire station on the east side.
This will not be an easy budget year.
Will Commissioner Sanghvi Up Her Game
During the ongoing debacle about the Travelers insurance settlement, it became embarrassingly evident that Commissioner Sanghvi knew almost nothing about the “consent agenda.” Apparently, she had not ever really looked at the consent agenda she had been voting on at each meeting when she echoed Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino’s false claim that it only contained minor items such as “mops and buckets.” It was bad enough that Montagnino and Mayor Kim did not understand the criteria of what went into the consent agenda and that there were individual entries involving many thousands of dollars. What was truly disturbing was that Commissioner Sanghvi, who is responsible for managing the finances of the city, suffered from the same ignorance.
Well, readers, tighten your seat belts because we are entering budget time, and Commissioner Sanghvi is going to find out that she’s going to have to take the job she has signed on for of overseeing the city finances more seriously.